- Necrobarista is the first game and visual novel from Australia-based studio Route 59.
- Its look and feel are impressive – this might be one of the most cinematic visual novels you’ll find. Route 59 added a variety of nifty features that set it apart from typical visual novels.
- The game centers on a couple of days in the life of a coffee shop owner and her friends. Except this coffee shop just happens to be at the spot where dead people move on to the next phase of death, and the owner is a bit of an “amateur necromancer”.
- While the premise is incredibly interesting (and Route 59 does a solid job building up an interesting world brimming with endless possibilities), Necrobarista tells a story that’s short, low-stakes and not particularly impactful.
- Worth buying? I’d consider buying it on sale if you’re interested in a light slice-of-life visual novel.
Necrobarista follows a dynamic and diverse cast of characters as they navigate Melbourne’s hipstery coffee culture, the questionable ethics of necromancy, and the process of letting go.
There’s surpringly little necromancy going on in Route 59’s Necrobarista, despite its title. There’s also not much about coffee either (to my disappointment, since coffee and espresso have become kind of a second hobby for me during the pandemic).
Instead, what we do get is a slice-of-life visual short story – I’d hesitate to call it a novel – about a coffee shop owner (Maddy) and her interactions with compadres “old guy” Chay, “teen tinkerer girl” Ashley, “new guy” Kishan, and “negative Nancy guy” Ned. But this ain’t your typical coffee shop.
This is the Terminal, a cafe that’s on the border between life and death, where recently deceased people can spend 24 hours wandering around or enjoying a latte before moving on to the next stage of their
Now you might be thinking, “neat idea…so where will they go with that concept?”
Turns out, the answer to that involves a “Council of Death”, time gambling, a 200-year-old guy, throwing knives, robots made of milk cartons and a constant theme of moving on (x10). Let’s just say it doesn’t play out as you might expect.
On a visual and technical level, Necrobarista puts on a great show – especially for a visual novel. While the interiors of the Terminal (and the characters as well) are drawn in a kind of low-polyish anime art style, everything is rendered in 3D (because Unity and 2D: there’s a joke here somewhere, har har har). One of the game’s standout features is the ability to walk around and explore the cafe – in full first-person POV. You can only interact with certain objects – this is how you unlock side stories – but it’s still pretty cool.
Necrobarista has a nice bag of tricks that it uses for the novel segments, from doing wacky things with the text to accentuate points, throwing in fun character animations, and using a combination of camera angles and lighting.
Also, the soundtrack is phenomenal.
The one issue I had with the game was with the color palettes, as it uses these extremely muted tones that made it really hard to spot interactable objects. It’s a similar type of look that you get at night when running stuff like f.lux or Windows Night mode.
Each chapter in Necrobarista is made up of four sections: first-person exploration (what I described earlier), visual novel, robot commentary and word selection.
The visual novel portion works much like any other visual novel. Characters will have conversations with each other, and every so often you’ll be presented with a special highlighted word that you can click on to get a snarky definition and also add it to a “basket” of words for later. Necrobarista does a great job here of taking the conventional visual novel character portraits and transforming them into scenes that are decidedly more cinematic.
The chapters close with a commentary section powered by three robots (that have been implanted with souls, blah blah blah), MST3K-style. I honestly hated this section. After that, you’ll have the opportunity to choose seven words from all of the highlighted ones you clicked on during the chapter – each one of these words represents a specific person (Maddy), place (Melbourne) or thing (Magic) in the game and gives you a token that you can use to unlock side stories during the first-person exploration sections. Tip: don’t worry about picking the wrong words here – once you finish the game, starting a new one will give you enough tokens to read every optional side story.
A “side” note: I actually enjoyed the side stories, and maybe more so than the actual game story (is this foreshadowing??). They just tended to be more…whimsical and provided some interesting backstory for the main cast or worldbuilding in general.
And now we come to the meat and potatoes of Necrobarista, the story. [note: there’s a very, very generic summary of the two acts here – personally, I don’t think it even needs a spoiler tag]
I had two issues with the story and by extension, the game:
1. It’s short
2. It doesn’t feel particularly meaningful (low-stakes)
It took me about 5 hours to finish Necrobarista. Finding and reading the rest of the optional stories I missed during my playthrough took another 30 minutes.
That’s pretty short for a $20 game. And while there are other visual novels and story-based games that are of similar length – I’m thinking stuff like Doki Doki Literature Club and To The Moon (which has always seemed like a visual novel except made in RPG Maker) here – those two are cheaper/free and do more with their narrative.
Part of what makes the length such a problem for me is that the story really isn’t all that impactful. Sure, I mostly liked the characters and loved the setting, but to sum up the second half of the game in as generic a way as possible: someone decides to try something that fails miserably and in the aftermath, the characters sit around talking about their feelings. There’s just not a lot going on.
Meanwhile, the first half just serves as an introduction to the characters with the exception of one scene that probably should have been the main conflict in the story. Alas, this one is quickly forgotten and gets swept under the rug in the end.
And so we’re left with this sort of low-stakes, “chill” story that’s more about basic character relationships than narrative. I don’t want to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it was disappointing for me because I thought the setting and concept were interesting enough that the plot could go in a million different wild and crazy directions. Route 59 just chose to go a different route.
I can’t really fault them for that.
Of course, this is all subjective and just reflects how I felt about finishing the game (I even went through it twice for you, dear reader – well, that is if anyone actually reads this).
Wondering if you should buy Necrobarista?
I’d recommend it with some reservations. First, get it on sale. $20 is a bit much to ask considering the length and it’s already been on sale once. No rush here, add it to your Steam wishlist and sit back.
I also think Necrobarista works well if you’re looking for something that’s quite a bit lighter than your typical high-stakes game, or looking to crack into the world of visual novels.